Local California news site sues county sheriff

Lake County News believes it is suffering discrimination

A local news site in Lake County, CA, is suing the sheriff there for discrimination. Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen, who started Lake County News in 2006, allege that Sheriff Frank Rivero is retaliating against them for publishing ‘unfavorable’ articles by witholding public information.

“That means our competitors receive press releases with important public safety information, but LCN does not, and that means that LCN cannot inform its readers of this important information,” Larson said in a statement released by her lawyer, Paul Nicholas Boylan, who specializes in open government issues.

Boylan told CJR that Rivero objects to LCN reports that he may have lied in the case of a 2008 shooting. “In October, the sheriff contacted them and told them that if they wanted to receive any more information from him, they would have to file an information request,” he said.

On October 22, Boylan said, Larson and Jensen received an email from Rivero advising them they had been scratched from the sheriff’s media list and would not be receiving further press releases and statements. “After becoming aware that you have printed such a blatant lie… I am done with your National Enquirer-style reporting,” Boylan said Rivero wrote. He accused the LCN of a “witch hunt” against him and advised them to file information requests if they needed “any information at all.”

In December, Larson and Jensen made information requests for all the correspondence the sheriff’s office had made with media outlets, to see if they were missing releases. Their request was denied on the grounds that it was vague or burdensome. The Lake County News lawsuit alleges that this denial fails to comply with the California Public Records Act, which allows journalists and citizens to request and receive public information.

“This isn’t just about us, just about one small Internet media outlet that covers news in a small county in northern California,” Larson said in her statement. “This is about something bigger. It is about the freedom of the press and the right of people to be free from government retaliation.”

Sheriff Rivero’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

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Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: , ,